What to watch for as MLB trade deadline approaches
- SI.com breaks down what to watch for as the MLB trade deadline approaches.
The fact that the this year’s nonwaiver trade deadline was bumped from July 31 to August 1 so that it wouldn't fall during afternoon games didn't stop a handful of teams—headlined by the Indians and Yankees, who teamed up for the Andrew Miller swap—from getting deals done on Sunday. As Monday's 4 p.m. ET cutoff approaches, here are five things to watch for:
A Jonathan Lucroy trade
As of late Saturday night, it appeared that Lucroy was headed to the Indians for a four-player package headlined by hot-hitting High A catcher Francisco Mejia, but on Sunday morning, the 30-year-old backstop scuttled the deal by invoking his partial no-trade clause, which allows him to block deals to eight teams (the Tigers, Twins, Angels, Athletics, Padres, Mariners and Nationals as well as the Indians). A strong hitter (.300/.360/.484 with 13 homers coming into Sunday) and a good defender, he's only making $4.25 million this year with a no-brainer $5.25 million club option for next year.
The Indians and Brewers have moved on from that deal's collapse, with Milwaukee reportedly re-engaging both the Mets and Rangers, but New York is said to be no longer in the mix. A Sunday afternoon tweet from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Jeff Wilson said that the Rangers and Brewers were discussing Lucroy plus a reliever, with slugging third baseman Joey Gallo involved "but nothing imminent." If the two sides can work out a trade, Lucroy wouldn't be able to block it. If they can't, look for the Dodgers to try to incorporate him into whatever else they're doing, as they were said to be interested in him as "part of a bigger deal involving more teams," according to FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman. More on that topic below.
Big Bats Beltran and Bruce
With the Yankees trading Miller and Aroldis Chapman, and thus showing their commitment to selling at this deadline, Carlos Beltran, their best hitter this year (.304/.344/.546 with 22 homers) but a pending free agent, is likely the next piece to go. The 39-year-old switch-hitter is a defensive liability (-27 Defensive Runs Saved in his last 215 games), which limits his appeal to teams that could DH him at least part of the time. He's owed about $5.34 million for the remainder of the season, and the Yankees are holding out for "a meaningful prospect," according to the New York Post's Joel Sherman. Via ESPN's Buster Olney, the Astros—for whom Beltran was an outstanding pickup back in June 2004—Rangers, Red Sox (a "major long shot" via Heyman) and Indians were all said to be interested, but nothing is close yet.
As for the 29-year-old Bruce, who's enjoying a strong bounce-back season (.265/.316/.559 with 25 homers) after two subpar ones, he may not be a fielding wizard either, but this year's -13 DRS is out of whack with his +33 mark for the previous eight seasons. He's making $12.5 million this year with a $13 million club option and $1 million buyout for next year, and the Reds are said to be looking for 2-3 good young players rather than an elite prospect, according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark. The Mets, who explored dealing for him last year before acquiring Yoenis Cespedes, have been the most heavily connected to him, and while the Dodgers, Rangers and Giants also showing interest, the Giants are now making a “late and strong push” for Bruce according to the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea.
The Dodgers will do… something
Last year, the Dodgers drew heavy criticism for their approach to the deadline, which resulted in the acquisition of seven players (Bronson Arroyo, Luis Avilan, Jim Johnson, Jose Peraza, Alex Wood, Mat Latos and Mike Morse) via a three-way trade with the Marlins and Braves, four of whom were gone by the end of the season and only two of whom (the oft-optioned Avilan and the currently injured Wood) remains in the organization as of Sunday. President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman loves his three-way deals—he's done four of them since coming aboard in late 2014—and has shown interest in both Bruce and Lucroy as part of his next one.
Currently, the Dodgers have an acute need for starting pitching, with Clayton Kershaw having no timetable to return from a what's already been a five-week absence due to a herniated disc; Hyun-Jin Ryu back on the DL after just one start; Wood out until at least mid-September after undergoing elbow debridement; Brett Anderson at least a couple of rehab starts away from a return from back surgery; Julio Urias facing an innings limit at some point; and Bud Norris having left Sunday's start after just 13 pitches due to tightness in his latissimus dorsi. The Dodgers are one of the few teams with the prospects to go after White Sox ace Chris Sale, having even indicated the possibility of dealing Urias, the game's top pitching prospect, in such a move. But given Friedman's Tampa Bay roots, it's more likely that their focus will fall to one of the Rays' starters—namely Chris Archer, Matt Moore, or Jake Odorizzi—all of whom are controllable through at least 2019, and none of whom will come cheap, either. Even with an offense averaging 5.25 runs per game in July (up from 4.17 over their first 81 games).
They'd also like to get some help in the outfield, where Andre Ethier's return from a broken tibia is in doubt, Trayce Thompson is on the DL with lower back woes, Yasiel Puig has been dogged by hamstring injuries and a curious inability to hit fastballs, and both Joc Pederson and Kiké Hernandez just returned from the DL. They've explored moving Puig, using his upside and affordability (owed $14 million for 2017–18) to help obtain what they want, but nothing yet has come to pass. Puig's three-hit game on Sunday—his first hits in 11 days—showed that he's healthy enough to play. That could help to attract teams, or to convince the Dodgers that he can continue his modest uptick since June 21 (.308/.390/.440 in 105 PA), when he returned from his first hamstring injury.
No Sale (probably), and slim pickings for rotation help
"They want your five best prospects, and that might not be good enough," said one executive of the White Sox asking price for their 27-year-old ace/tailor. Indeed, Chicago's demands are so high and, with the southpaw under club control through 2019 for roughly $41 million, their motivation to move him is so low that there's only a slim chance he's dealt by Monday afternoon. If he is, the list of contenders with the prospects to make a deal is probably limited to the Dodgers, Red Sox, Rangers, Astros and Nationals, but it’s doubtful any of them want to dig that deep.
Beyond Sale, there's no other ace on the market, and not much in the way of impact pieces. The Royals' Edinson Volquez,(4.70 ERA, 4.26 FIP), who would likely decline his end of a $10 million mutual option this winter, and the A's Rich Hill (2.25 ERA, 2.53 FIP), who's making $6 million but currently on the DL for a blister on his left middle finger, may be the best available starters this side of the aforementioned Rays’ trio (who are all scuffling to some degree or another) but their modest contracts mean they’ll cost plenty in prospects. The Astros, Tigers, Marlins (who traded for Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea on Friday, then watch the latter suffer an elbow sprain a day later) and Rangers are among the teams that have shown in interest in Volquez. Via Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the A's are said to be discussing a contract extension with Hill; previously, he connected the Astros, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Pirates and Rangers to him. The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser characterized Oakland's likelihood of dealing Hill as "a longshot" while adding the Tigers and Orioles (who dealt for the Mariners' Wade Miley on Sunday) to the list of suitors given that they've scouted him extensively.
Other names to watch (preferably through your fingers): the Twins’ Ervin Santana, the Yankees’ Ivan Nova, the Phillies’ Jeremy Hellickson, the Pirates’ Francisco Liriano and the Red Sox Clay Buchholz.
Something Brewin’ in relief market
With Chapman, Miller and Mark Melancon all traded and Wade Davis landing the DL with a flexor strain, the top shelf of the relief market has been cleared. While several contenders are likely to bring home some bullpen arm that they're convinced can help, the Brewers hold two of the more interesting pieces in righty Jeremy Jeffress and lefty Will Smith. The 28-year-old Jeffres has saved 26 games while pitching to a 2.27 ERA with 6.8 strikeouts per nine in 43 2/3 innings, while the 26-year-old Smith, who didn't make his 2016 debut until June 2 due to a torn LCL in his right knee, has pitched to a 3.86 ERA with 9.0 strikeouts per nine in 21 innings. Both will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, so they could bring back value for the rebuilding Brewers.
Other relievers to keep an eye upon: the White Sox David Robertson, the Angels' Huston Street and Joe Smith, the Phillies’ Jeanmar Gomez, and the Braves' Chris Withrow.